Cultivating College Access: Wolverine Pathways

Wolverine Pathways (WP) collaborates with the families, schools, and communities of Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti to provide free, year-round educational enrichment to middle and high school scholars.

The program first identifies and then supports the development of academically promising students with a record of school achievement and extracurricular participation.

The goal is to increase the probability of these students’ admission to the nation’s most selective colleges, including the University of Michigan. WP programming is designed to support: 

  • High academic performance

  • Self-advocacy in school

  • Community engagement 

  • Ability to imagine and experience the connection between college study and career opportunities

The program also exposes scholars to the range and rigor of U-M’s academic majors and schools and to the vitality of undergraduate student life, thereby preparing them for the social and cultural demands of elite college settings.

Students who successfully complete Wolverine Pathways, apply to the U-M and are admitted to either the Ann Arbor or Dearborn campuses receive a four-year tuition scholarship.

Students admitted to the Flint campus will be considered for U-M Flint’s general scholarship programs. All scholars who attend the University of Michigan continue to receive support services that facilitate their successful college transition.

WP’s educational activities and support services include:

  • Math literacy, identity, and efficacy

  • Critical reading and writing

  • Interdisciplinary project-based learning 

  • SAT test prep and strategies

  • Career, research, and service internships

  • On-campus courses and pre-collegiate experiences

  • Cultural events and field trips

  • Visits to the U-M’s  Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses

  • College application guidance and admissions essay writing support

  • College preparation and transition workshops

  • U-M undergraduate near-peer mentors

  • College advising workshops for parents and guardians

  • High school and college advising with experienced counselors

Many youth in nearby urban areas find themselves in school systems that are not able to support their efforts to become college-ready, particularly for elite institutions. Even when opportunities do exist, families may not be aware of or able to maximize them.

As a result, students from these districts may not be actively recruited by the U-M and have expressed feeling that there is no place for them here.

By reaching out to high-achieving students in underserved communities, and by increasing their knowledge and skill sets over a period of years, Wolverine Pathways helps those students see a place for themselves at leading universities such as U-M.

Also, through a year-to-year process of building test preparation skills, improving literacy in STEM and the English Language Arts, mentoring, counseling, and summer internships, students develop competences and academic profiles that increase the likelihood of their admission to selective colleges and begin to make the connection between college and careers.

In essence, Wolverine Pathways strives to give talented students from resource-challenged communities a running start at success, both academic and professional. Objectives that support this goal along the way include:

  • Developing, or in some cases creating, strong relationships and recruitment channels with schools throughout the targeted districts

  • Exposing students to as many future choices and careers options as possible based on their current, expressed interests

  • Increasing each student’s preparation for standardized tests

  • Helping participants maximize their high school curriculum and take advantage of support services within their schools

  • Creating a set of educational activities that anticipate U-M’s first-year core classes

  • Providing access to expert counselors to help students recognize and access support services within their own schools

  • Recruiting highly qualified secondary school teachers to assure optimal learning experiences in core academic programs

  • Leveraging existing pre-collegiate programs in units across both U-M campuses, and  encouraging the design and development of new programs 

The key participants are students in public and charter schools, who are recruited during their 7th and 9th grade years from targeted districts. Secondary participants include their parents and/or guardians.

The program is driven by a multitude of partners and collaborators, primarily U-M faculty and administrators, post-doctoral fellows, academic advisors, and undergraduate near- peer-mentors.

Collaborators in schools and communities include teachers, school counselors and district administrators, representatives from businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations, and U-M alumni who are willing to host internships and career exploration programs.

Planning:

Launched in February of 2016, the Wolverine Pathways Program was developed over a period of 18 months through the coordinated efforts of several on-campus committees and a wide array of experts representing vital program components.

During the planning stage, a strategic recruitment plan was developed, with input from counseling departments of public schools as well as trusted youth and community organizations.

A decision was then made to create an earlier entry point— 7th grade—to reach children who needed a bigger boost and a more comprehensive intervention.

By establishing relationships with school counselors and other advocates, multiple integrated supports were created for students, aimed at promoting shared expectations and guidance about college preparation and admissions. 

Key among the program’s work groups for planning and, later, implementation are:

The Curriculum, Instruction and Transition Task Force Comprised of subject specialists in English, mathematics and science who guided the evaluation and improvement of the scope and sequence of the academic core. The group also includes admissions professionals; directors of pipeline programs; U-M scholars and practitioners who have expertise in college transitions and bridge programs; and mentoring program specialists. These experts guide the content and improvement of the academic and college advising curriculum and the supports for a successful college transition.

Campus Advisory Committee – Members include enrollment managers; representatives ranging from associate deans to admission counselors from U-M’s admitting colleges, departments and units; representatives from satellite campuses; and content experts in mathematics and other areas to advise on program building that anticipates “academic hurdles”  as well as curriculum development. Having a committee such as this in place may be particularly beneficial for large institutions with multiple units and schools, each with a unique set of student expectations and admissions criteria.

Admissions Review and Advisory Committee (ARAC) This committee is responsible for recommending which applicants should be accepted for each program cycle.  ARAC also suggests revisions to the WP application, review criteria and the calibration and review processes. Committee members are drawn from the ranks of admissions specialists; student services/affairs personnel; UM personnel engaged with Wolverine Pathways partner communities; and scholars with expertise pertinent to the various communities we serve, their populations and/or the requisite educational or social issues associated with the partnership sites.

Implementation:

The successful launch and implementation of Wolverine Pathways was made possible by a  strong network of campus and community professionals with a shared passion for advancing college access.

Key to this success was a focus on recruiting talented, dedicated secondary school teachers for the core academic program and providing professional development to advance their coaching skills and instructional capacity.

The WP curriculum also integrated the expertise of student affairs professionals, admissions specialists, and content experts to develop courses and workshops supporting the cultivation of content knowledge, learning strategies and help-seeking behaviors that anticipate common admissions and transition “hurdles” (e.g., mathematics; rhetorical analysis and writing; social and cultural divides). 

Another essential component of implementation has involved building networks with university alumni, campus units, local businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations to create a cache of paid and experiential internship opportunities for participants. Mentoring–especially student-to-student, near-peer mentoring—is a fundamental part of the program.

A central aspect of U-M’s approach to Wolverine Pathways was an expanded  notion of families. The program invites and includes a wide range of caregivers as part of each scholar’s network of support, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, and godparents.

Opportunities for face-to-face interactions, programs and meetings that allow these caregivers to stand in place of parents and legal guardians has been crucial in reaching and supporting promising students as they apply, participate in and complete the program.

Metrics used in evaluating the success of Wolverine Pathways are both qualitative and quantitative. To assess overall success, we currently capture and analyze data on:

  • Scholar Retention and Completion: Number of scholars accepted to and retained in the program through graduation

  • Overall College Admission: Colleges to which scholars were admitted

  • U-M Admission: Number of scholars who apply and are admitted to the U-M 

  • U-M Yield: Number of students accepting U-M offers of admission

  • Parent and Scholar Annual Assessments: A yearly survey that captures scholar and parent experiences and satisfaction levels, including feedback on program strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and areas for improvement

  • Scholar Transition Assessments: Focus group accounts of the U-M transition experience and the role and benefits of WP programming in that transition.    

In the future, we will develop metrics that allow us to dig more deeply into the data; for example, by addressing questions such as growth along key dimensions (e.g., GPA; SAT scores; math literacy and critical reading and writing competencies) that position students for college admission and successful transitions. 

Indicators of success for Wolverine Pathways are very strong. There were 654 active scholars in 2018-19. In the first two cohorts, 176 scholars graduated from the program. 86% of Wolverine Pathways graduates enrolled in college.

The most recent graduating class of 89 students included 46 students admitted to the Ann Arbor campus and 32 admitted to the Dearborn campus.In all, 85 WP graduates have enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus and 20 at U-M Dearborn.

In addition, we conduct individual course evaluations that capture student assessments of their experience and engagement with course content and instructors.

To complement our substantive, long-term program evaluations,  we also collect “quick data”–short assessments aligned to specific events that enable us to improve key aspects of individual programs.  

  • From the outset, be clear about program goals. Customize the logic and content of program to the college or university. In the case of U-M, Wolverine Pathways is designed to attract and maximize the excellence of already high-performing students. The goals are to encourage and prepare these students to apply to U-M and to improve their chances of admission to U-M and other selective colleges and universities.

  • Make your college a place where students want to come by asking and attending to the hard questions: What are the factors that discourage some students from applying? Does the institution need to change its culture? How can your college make itself more welcoming and inclusive?

  • In designing the curriculum, be clear about your institution’s expectations for applicants. What is the college looking for in its holistic review process? What courses must a student excel in to meet those expectations? What other characteristics should define their profiles and how might these be proactively cultivated through your programming?

  • Search out faculty and departments interested in building new pre-college programming that reflects shared interest in diversifying the academic pipeline.

  • To avoid redundancy in programming, leverage and partner with pre-existing pipeline programs on your campus 

  • Anticipate that many of your program partners may not have the requisite cultural competency to effectively engage the students in your program. Then, create professional development and learning opportunities to help advance their capacity to do so.

  • Accept inevitable limitations. Recognize the fact that no college-based program, however well resourced and well intentioned, can compensate for systemic educational inequalities and insufficient investment in the academic infrastructure of underserved schools. Focus instead on where and how you can most powerfully intervene to correct these inequalities, given the available resources.

Wolverine Pathways website: https://wolverinepathways.umich.edu/



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